New planning controls for Oxford Street are being considered by the City of Sydney. The new Local Environmental Plan (LEP) would apply to the northside of the world-famous gay strip from Whitlam Square to Taylor Square.  

As previously reported in the Star Observer, developers Ashe Morgan have leased the City owned buildings on Oxford Street for 99 years. The new LEP would allow Ashe Morgan to increase the height of the building by 10 percent in exchange for incorporating Creative and Cultural uses into their redevelopment plans. 

Under the proposal, new arcade connections would be permitted between buildings and basement areas of building would be excluded in calculating the overall floor space to allow further creative activation. 

Similar planning practices have been applied on Broadway opposite Victoria Park to provide new creative spaces while further spurring on economic uptake in the local area. 

Earlier this year the City of Sydney surveyed more than 1,700 people, as part of their review of the planning controls for Oxford Street. While 83% of all respondents stated that the LGBTQI identity of Oxford Street was important to them, the proposed Oxford Street Creative and Cultural Precinct LEP barely mentions the area’s LGBTQI history or identity. 

‘Sceptical Of City’s Commitment To Oxford Street’s Future’

The draft LEP was tabled at a City of Sydney committee meeting on May 10, 2021. In advance of the meeting, the Star Observer reached out to all City of Sydney Councillors and the Lord Mayor for comment. Only two responded. 

Independent Councillor Dr Kerryn Phelps remains sceptical of the City’s commitment to the future of Oxford Street. Phelps told Star Observer that “the City of Sydney has been a major landlord of Oxford Street properties for decades but many of the buildings have been left empty and rundown and this has meant that the street’s economic viability has been on a steady downward trend.

“It is pretty clear that large chunks of this LEP have been reverse engineered to accommodate development proposals. For example, the increased height limit trade for creative space is a virtual cut and paste from the original EOI for the sale of the Darlinghurst Collection, which included a mandatory provision of 1060 sqm for creative purposes.” 

Phelps went on to add that “Over the coming few years, the buildings that have been leased to Ashe Morgan will undergo extensive refurbishment, so there will be a transitional period which will have to be managed to support the precinct while that work happens.

A point made more crucial in the lead up to 2023 World Pride, when a global spotlight will be shone upon Oxford St, which could be covered in rainbow clad awnings in two years-time. 

Plans To Revitalise Local Economy

Labor Councillor Linda Scott told the Star Observer these new planning proposals have been advocated for by State Labour for a very long time, to “revitalise local economy by allowing development in the public interest to increase space for live performance and create employment particularly in the creative industries.”

“The idea is that area zoning that allow areas to become known as creative precincts, and again allow a sector that has been hit hard by COVID to recover.” Scott explains, “as part of our arts and creative plans we announced that we’d like to implement these in the city, it’s good to see the Lord mayor embracing Labor’s vision, however Oxford St is at its heart an area that is and always will be important to our LGBTQI communities.”

Oxford Street Is An LGBTQI+ Icon

Ben Mulcahy, a long-term resident and property owner on Oxford Street, supports the new LEP. 

“The area has gotten consistently worse. Every time I think it is as bad as it can get, it gets worse. The area has always been an LGBTQI icon and beacon for the world; and I believe it will always be that way. But what it requires is some investment so it can become a strip we can be proud of. People don’t visit anymore because it’s so dilapidated.” 

“What I would like to see is significant investment into the area, roof top bars with harbour views, new nightclubs. The whole place needs investment. This proposal isn’t bringing in more residences into the area, it is bringing what is here up to scratch.”  

“I hope the community supports this exciting Oxford Street renewal so that the street can get the investment it needs to be a world class LGBTI entertainment precinct. We deserve better than what’s there now.” Mulcahy adds.

The proposed Oxford Street Creative and Cultural Precinct LEP will be voted on and in all likelihood will be adopted on Monday May 17, at the next City of Sydney Council meeting. 


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